A wet day at Orchardleigh House

When a couple set a date for their wedding they often plan everything in meticulous detail. What none of them can do though is book fine weather for their big day.


So the law of averages dictates that some weddings will be plagued by some of the wet stuff or, as we like to say here in the UK, ‘liquid sunshine’. Last Saturday in Somerset turned out to be one of those days. In the photo above I am trying (but not succeeding) to hide the fact that both buses were far from clean after doing their duty in soggy Somerset.

Let me rewind the clock a little. Compared with some recent Crosville duties, my day had started at a reasonable hour. On the way to the depot in Weston-super-Mare I picked up my conductor for the day, my friend Cherry Selby. My journey up the M5 hadn’t been pleasant, with heavy rain and spray slowing my progress. The rain had eased by the time we arrived at the depot and, on the way to the Crew Room, we were pleased to see that our rostered bus was near the front of the garage and not buried deep within as is sometimes the case. My Work Ticket showed that two buses had been allocated to this job and the two green Bristol Lodekkas were parked together. Ours was ex-Bristol Omnibus Company LC8518 (972EHW), a 1959 LD6B. I’ve had this one several times before and is very presentable, if a little quirky to drive.

To begin with, this particular Bristol AVW 6-cylinder engine is always reluctant to start when cold. On this occasion I found that, once I had it running, it really didn’t want to go any faster than a slightly fast idle. Bristol engines are renowned for having what I call a ‘lazy throttle’, with a noticable delay in delivering power when the accellerator pedal is depressed. It took several minutes of persuasion to extract anywhere near full revs from the cold engine, quite unlike the Gardner equivalent.

Being prepared by Driver Lawrence was Southern Vectis 573, a 1962 Bristol FS6G (YDL318). After agreeing our route we set off in gloomy weather for Orchardleigh House, Frome. The 40-mile trip was not straightforward and can best be described as ‘rural’. There is no direct route and we splashed our way through the lanes on a variety of A and B roads before trundling up the very long drive of the Orchardleigh estate. The guests soon piled onto the 2 buses, many of them American, judging by their accents. One chap was amazed at the condition of the buses, saying “Wow, you guys really look after your old stuff. In the USA we don’t keep anything historic, it just gets trashed!”

Our route to the church was longer than we’d have liked, due to a low railway bridge on the most direct route. So we had to get to the parish church of St Mary, Bruton, via Shepton Mallet and Evercreech. According to Conductor Selby, the folk downstairs were fretting a little and didn’t seem to appreciate that height restrictions dictated our choice of route to the church. Taking the B-road from Evercreech to Bruton wasn’t much fun for the drivers, either! For my part, I was plagued by another of LC8518’s quirks – when engaging 2nd gear you have to navigate past a little ‘notch’ which rears up and bites the driver when going for a quick downchange. This peculiarity isn’t present on other Bristol buses I’ve driven so unfortunately I was responsible for a few crunchy moments!

YDL318-&-972EHW-at-Kings-School-BrutonFinally, a little later than scheduled, we unloaded outside the church and then parked up outside King’s School just up the road. Earlier in the week I had arranged with the school to use its school bus bay and the staff had helpfully coned off enough room for our 2 buses. My poor conductor was soaked through, having endured an uncomfortably wet journey on the open platform. And before you imagine me in a nice warm cab up the front, that too leaked and I had a very wet left leg!

As soon as the guests started emerging from the church we drove around the block, along the very narrow High Street and back to the church. Unhelpfully, as we weaved our way through the hilliest, narrowest part of the road out of Bruton, lots of cars and even a lorry chose the same moment to use the same route, but coming the other way. Our American passengers must have been having kittens as we brushed the hedges with only an inch or two between the vehicles! Happily the rain had stopped so that was one less hazard to have to deal with.

I was in the lead most of the time in the Bristol-engined Lodekka but I had to keep a close eye on my mirrors (well, I do that anyway of course…) to make sure that I didn’t leave the other bus behind. Although both have a standard 4-speed ‘box, the Bristol AVW engine revs a little higher giving my bus a 3mph advantage over the other one. Finally we drew up in front of the imposing frontage of Orchardleigh House and our passengers gratefully disembarked. One of them remarked “Well, that was epic…” but we weren’t sure whether or not it was meant as a compliment!

After posing the two buses for the photo at the top of this post, Driver Lawrence and I set off on our cross-country jaunt back to the depot. By this time the light was fading and ploughing through large, unseen (until the last moment) puddles added yet more filth to the sides of the buses. As we approached the Mendips I pulled over into a layby and waved the other bus by as its driver knew that part of the route better. I didn’t want to spoil the day by taking a wrong turn!

There was one bit of good news awaiting us as we pulled up in the yard after a long and tiring journey. As per usual we leapfrogged the long line of Crosville service buses awaiting their turn to be cleaned and fuelled as it has been normal practice for the heritage drivers to park their own buses at the end of the day. This time however, we were told to leave the buses running as the cleaners would wash and fuel our buses. Great! By the time we had done our paperwork the first of the Lodekkas had already been washed and a cleaner could just be seen through the misty windows sweeping out the top deck. I remember the days when, working as a conductor for Quantock Motor Services, each bus crew was responsible for washing and sweeping out their own bus – there were no cleaners to do it for us then!

In other news, I took the sightseeing tours Leyland PD2 down to Plymouth last week for some mechanical attention so I expect to be driving it back to its winter storage shed before long. My next Crosville duty will take me on a Mystery Tour around Somerset for someone’s 60th birthday (not mine, before you ask). Even I don’t know the route yet!

If you’re in North Somerset and can pop along to Weston-super-Mare on Sunday November 8th, you’ll see the Crosville Steam Bus in service for the last time this year. When ‘Elizabeth’, the 1931 Sentinel steam bus returns in 2016 she will be wearing Crosville green livery!

One comment on “A wet day at Orchardleigh House

  1. Just catching up on your jotting John.
    As usual a good day out for you, and a good read.
    I will now move on to the the next post.

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